Journey to becoming an Assistant Professor, mentoring graduate students, and launching an initiative to close the communication loop during the pandemic, with Dr. Katelyn Jetelina

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani speaks with assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and the author of Your Local Epidemiologist blog, Katelyn Jetelina. They discuss Katelyn’s career in public health as well as her motivations to share public health information in an accessible way on her blog your local epidemiologist.


You’ll Learn

  • More about Katelyn’s journey in transitioning from a pre-med student to her current field of violence epidemiology 
  • Tips for getting into the field of health communication
  • The importance of leveraging connections for best outreach and outcomes in your career
  • How Katelyn has been able to create a successful public health blog that reaches a wide variety of audiences – from non-academics to folks all across the political spectrum
  • How to seek opportunities in the field of health communication for knowledge translation
  • How second languages can be an asset to the field of health communication
  • The importance of having public health campaigns that are accessible to a wide audience
  • How to create high engagement posts in the field of health communications
  • How to use constructive audience feedback to your own advantage

Today’s Guest

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina has a Masters in Public Health and PhD in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She is an Assistant Professor at a School of Public Health where her research lab resides and where she teaches. She has a secondary appointment at a medical school. She runs the highly successful blog entitled “Your Local Epidemiologist” and describes her inspiration behind the blog: 

“If I’ve learned one thing throughout this pandemic, it’s the lack of scientific “translation” to the community. Without the translation, many are left to biased reports, inaccurate descriptions of the current state of affairs, and confusion and anxiety. The purpose of this page is to “close the communication loop” by providing a direct line from science to you. My posts are 100% data-driven and backed by the most recent scientific evidence. Some of these are my own analyses, some of these are based on other brilliant scientists peer reviewed studies, and some are science-driven resources.”



Other PH SPOT resources:

Episode Transcript

Katelyn 0:00
Honestly and selfishly, that’s the most fun I have with it is reading comments and hearing that feedback and hearing the additional questions people have. And what’s really cool about it, too is you know, I mentioned some scientists do follow me and so they’re there answering questions as well and trying to communicate the science to them, which I think is fantastic, because then I get to learn more too.

Sujani 0:26
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. So the internet and social media especially are great ways to discover amazing public health professionals. I don’t know what I would have done without it. Many of the people that I have interviewed for this podcast, for example, I have not met before in person, we’ve discovered each other over the internet in some way. And I’m truly grateful for that. And today’s guest is no different in the way we quote unquote met each other. Dr. Katelyn Jetelina and I connected because of our mutual interest in health communication. We both came across each other’s platforms, and were fascinated by the work that we’ve been doing. Katelyn, for example, launched an initiative called, “Your local epidemiologist”, to close a communication loop during the pandemic, she was on a mission to provide a direct line from science to her community of followers, using engaging posts that are entirely data driven and backed by recent scientific evidence. She translated important information about the pandemic to the community. And she continues to do so through her platforms. And with my interest in teaching infographic design and Katelyn’s initiative, we were able to connect about how to bring the course to her community and students at the University of Texas, for example. And so if you’re curious or interested about this course, you can learn more about it over at But I’ll tell you a bit more about that later on at the end of our episode, but for today’s episode with Katelyn, it’s an exciting conversation that I have with her because we’ve been kind of, you know, keeping in touch with each other’s work. But early in 2021, we were finally able to sit down and chat about Katelyn’s journey. And so we talked about a few things, mainly her journey to becoming an assistant professor at the University of Texas, the advice she has for graduate students as she mentors quite a number of them, and then we also talk about her initiative to close a communication loop during the pandemic through her platform, “Your local epidemiologists”, which we’ll make sure to link up in the show notes page. And so without further ado, here’s our chat.

Hey, Katelyn, welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. And thank you so much for joining me today.

Katelyn 3:22
Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s- I’m excited to be here.

Sujani 3:25
Yeah. And I’m very excited to, later on in the episode, get into this work that you’ve been doing as a result of COVID. And the reason I think you and I kind of connected but before that I really wanted to ask you like, how did you discover public health, and how did you get into this field? And what was that journey like?

Katelyn 3:46
Oh, good question. So I got my undergrad in physiology and geography, I was pre-med through and through, I always thought I was going to med school. And so you know, in the United States, at least, everyone usually takes a year off of after undergrad and before med school. And so during that time, I decided to go get my master’s in public health. Just because the degree in geography that I had, I really wanted to marry that with physiology. So before I even knew it, I was thinking population health. And then I got my MPH, I really was, I felt like the MPH really only touched the surface. And I then so decided to get my PhD in epidemiology and biostatistics. And after that, I fell in love with it. I honestly did and never really have looked back. I really like the perspective of being able to work with physicians still on that patient level but then also treat populations at a time you know, we can, in epidemiology, we can treat that dozens and hundreds and millions and now even billions at a time. And, and to me, that’s really impactful. And so I guess it was never planned. It was just-

Sujani 5:11

Katelyn 5:11

  • what happened, which I think happens to a lot of us.

Sujani 5:15
Yeah, it’s funny, I hear that quite a bit from, you know, public health practitioners that this path that they’re on has been accidental. They discover public health, either during some elective course, or they just read about it. And it’s, yeah, it’s quite interesting to hear that most people’s journeys, very accidental and how they fall into public health.

Katelyn 5:37
Yeah, it is, and I, but I hope that’s changing. You know, honestly, I didn’t even know about public health in my undergrad. And now with a spotlight on public health, because of the pandemic, I’m really hopeful that that story will be changing, and a lot more people will be going into it purposely.

Sujani 5:57
I think so at least in Canada, I’m even seeing more undergraduate level public health degrees, which didn’t exist, at the time I was graduating, we had kind of this broad health studies degree that we could do. But now I’m hearing students actually purposely go into a public health undergrad.

Katelyn 6:14
Yeah. And we are seeing it too, on the graduate side. So I’m in charge of admissions at our School of Public Health, and we’re getting an onslaught of applications, which is just fantastic.

Sujani 6:26
That’s fantastic. Yeah. So I guess, ya know, the medical school route, I didn’t realize that that’s what you had kind of set foot into when you were starting undergrad, at what point would you say you decided, okay, I’m not going to be to, I guess, practice as a traditional physician, you know, going into this field of population level health?

Katelyn 6:46
I think it was, you know, right after my master’s, I had to decide whether to apply for medical school or doctor at PhD school. And so I guess that was the time that I really just kind of had to decide. And, and I made a really great decision.

Sujani 7:05
And in you- did kind of your all three of your degrees successively, one after the other, was that just because, you know, after deciding that you wanted to go into public health, academia was the route that you wanted to pursue?

Katelyn 7:19
Yeah. So you’re right, you know, I got my bachelor’s, and then my masters, and then my PhD without taking a break. And in between any of that, and, you know, hindsight, is 2020, I don’t know if I would suggest people doing this, because you get so much experience going out in the quote, unquote, real world. But, you know, it worked for me. And I got a lot of experience throughout my degree program, I got to go work at the WHO in Geneva, I got to go work in South Africa, in the HIV AIDS program. And so I think it’s doable as long as you integrate the two concurrently, and you’re not just in the classroom all the time.

Sujani 8:01
Yeah. And do you think that experience would have been beneficial, like, right, between your undergrad and your masters, or more between the masters and the PhD?

Katelyn 8:12
Ooh, that is a good question. You know, I don’t know, I know that a lot of people take a break after their master’s. And the unfortunate thing, though, is then they get jobs, and they start families and just never go back to their PhD. And so you know, there’s pros to this, as well as cons. So I guess I would say, you know, a break some real world experience, maybe after your undergrad before your masters, no, maybe working at a nonprofit or, you know, just starting to get the lay of the land before diving all in? Yeah,

Sujani 8:49
Yeah, I asked that question because one of the biggest questions we get at PH SPOT is people are graduating from their undergrad degrees, they’re often, when they’re looking for jobs, find that employers want master’s level education. And they’re finding it hard time finding a job right out of undergrad. So that kind of pushes people to go and pursue a master’s degrees. So not sure if you have any thoughts on that.

Katelyn 9:15
Yeah, I hear you. And it is a catch 22, right? And I think we see it during that jump, we see it during the masters to PhD jump, we see it from the PhD to postdoc jump, we see it from you know, so I think there’s always going to be that challenge, especially when we’re starting to move so quickly towards graduate degrees. I certainly sympathize and empathize with that. And that’s a big problem. It’s a big problem. And I guess I just don’t have the solution.

Sujani 9:47
I think one of the ideas that you gave was even trying to work with nonprofit organizations and something else I tell people is you know, get creative in what you can offer even if the job posting says the need of master’s degrees still apply and then try to shine in your resume your CV and offer some additional creative solutions to some of the problems that the nonprofits are facing. And maybe you don’t even need to apply to an actual job posting, but just reaching out to those nonprofit organizations.

Katelyn 10:19
Yeah, 100%. You know, I think a lot of it has to just be to be an advocate for yourself. And, you know, being patient as well. There’s, there’s a lot in this, this trajectory of a profession that, you know, a lot of it is investment, so maybe you have to go do an internship unpaid for, you know, four to six weeks, and then they- they know you, they see your potential, and then that’s when you have the conversation of hey, what are the opportunities for me here, and if there’s not any growth opportunities, then keep looking, because we need all if this pandemic showed us anything, we need all of the public health professions, professionals that we can take. So be an advocate for yourself. I would also add to that.

Sujani 11:10
Yeah, I think you mentioned this, when you were reflecting on your journey was that you gained experience as you are going through school. And that’s also a good way, you know, I find that employers when they hear that you’re looking for a student role, they’re a bit more open to hiring than a full time job. So that’s also a good way to gain experience throughout your undergrad. Yes.

Katelyn 11:31
Yes, 100%.

Sujani 11:32
So I guess interestingly, you know, you had gone through your grad school, and then now you have grad students pursuing your master’s level or PhD level studies that you’re supervising. Are you noticing any kind of differences in the period that you were kind of getting trained up in public health versus now when you’re training your students?

Katelyn 11:54
Interesting question. I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I have to admit that I’ve never really reflected on. But you know, where I’ve seen the most change is in my specific expertise area. So my day job is actually violence epidemiology. It’s a field, very small field that looks at how violence is contagious, and how we can prevent it. And so what I would say is that that expertise field is growing really fast. And so my PhD students who reach out to study under me have specific experience or interest in that area. And when I was going to the graduate program, there wasn’t even really a field that was called Violence epi. So I guess that’s where I see the most, most change right now.

Sujani 12:47
Okay. And I feel like I should know this, but you do supervise both masters level and PhD level students? Is that correct?

Katelyn 12:55
That’s correct. Yeah. So I have about who’s about 30, masters of public health students, I directly have five or five PhD students, two more are coming this August. And then I also actually advise MD mph students, so those that are getting a dual degree and their medical degree, as well as a Master’s of Public Health.

Sujani 13:21
Okay. And, you know, for any of our listeners, interested in this field of violence, Epidemiology, any tips or advice you can provide to them if they are interested to kind of reaching out to you?

Katelyn 13:34
Yeah, you know, I guess my biggest tip is, don’t be afraid to reach out, whether it’s to me or to another professional in the field. And, you know, set up an informational interview, take them out, or post pandemic, take him out for coffee, or during the pandemic, ask for a virtual meeting, come prepared with questions and just start, you know, understanding that field and exploring it because you don’t know about what- you don’t know what you don’t know, right? And so that- that is, my biggest advice is don’t be afraid to cold email. And then if you don’t get a response, don’t be afraid to follow up or continue finding others that you can reach out to.

Sujani 14:23
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s good advice. Just given kind of like the position that you sit in. Is there any additional I guess, advice or tips as to when you think the right time is for someone to start thinking about or pursuing a PhD? And are there certain types of students that you look for who you feel are ready to pursue that PhD? And, you know, I mean, it might be the case that it’s very specific to each individual in terms of when they’re ready for their PhD but wondering if there are certain, I guess, yeah, just certain advice and tips for that kind of transition from a master’s level to a PhD level graduate study?

Katelyn 15:05
Yeah, good question. You know, I guess when I’m looking at applications, the one thing I try and find is- Masters of Public Health is such a broad field and it honestly can be very overwhelming. And so the one thing that I look for specifically is if they have a clearer view of where they want to go, or what they want to study, that doesn’t mean they have to stick with that in the PhD program. But you know, to, to have a general sense, do they want to look at chronic health care? Do they want to look at healthcare Risk Services, they want to look at violence, EPI, blah, blah, blah, the other thing that I know a lot of admissions committees look for, is if you’ve done your homework, so name the professor that you want to work under. Did you already reach out to that Professor before you submitted that application? Are they going to, you know, go to bat for you, when their app- your application comes to the foreground. And so you can- you can really tell very easily if people have done their homework before submitting a PhD application or not, for those that you don’t know, you know, an MPH application is very different than a PhD application. With a PhD, you can be an amazing student, you can have a 4.0, you could, you know, be volunteering everywhere. But it’s a match process. So if you’re, you’re not clear on who you want to study with, and why, that it’s going to be very easy to put that application to the wayside because it’s a matching process, the faculty needs to want you and you need to want that faculty, it doesn’t matter how good of a student you are. So and that’s very different than a master’s program where it’s more of a general degree program.

Sujani 16:57
And in addition to that matching, I guess, process, are there additional skills that faculty typically look for in their PhD students? Or is it primarily driven by just finding a good match for the two people?

Katelyn 17:10
Yeah, honestly, good matches. Number one, it’s very, very good. If you know, you have a thesis during your master’s program, or you published a thing or two, or you went to a conference, just because that shows you again, the- as the admissions committee that shows you the dedication you have to that, to this field, and to your interest, and you’re not afraid to go start exploring. And so I mean, that having a publication record, or even a, you know, conference, poster record, it would be fantastic too, the only thing we look really closely at is letters of support, letters of recommendation, and who wrote those letters of recommendation? What are they saying about you? Were you ranked in your class, if there’s some gaps in your application, like say you did really bad one semester during undergrad, that’s not a game changer, you just have to explain that. And maybe one of your recommenders can help explain that too.

Sujani 18:20
And those recommenders do you typically suggest they come from a wide variety of backgrounds, not just academia, but perhaps, you know, volunteering or your employer? Yeah,

Katelyn 18:32
Yeah, so definitely want an academic one or two, like one of your professors that you did really well in a class or someone you studied under as a research assistant, you know, one, and you can also do a volunteer supervisor. I will say, though, that the academic letters of recommendation are looked at more heavily just because we’re trying to get an understanding of how successful you will be in an academic program.

Sujani 19:01
Wonderful. I feel like you know, I could sit here and do a FAQ with you on applications. But I- there’s another topic I really wanted to cover with you. And it’s about the community that emerged from your leadership as a result of the pandemic we’re in and it’s called, “Your local epidemiologist”. And I love the tagline first of all, which was closing the communication loop. But yeah, can you tell us the story of how that started and what it is for our listeners, and then we can dive into it a bit more?

Katelyn 19:33
Yeah, it’s a- it was a wild ride. So back in March 2020, I was like everyone else just watching events unfold. The Dean of my school actually came to me and asked me to write daily newsletter basically to our staff and to our students of what we’re seeing in the data. She knew I was analyzing data. I had been putting them in Excel file. If I was looking at, you know, trying to find the best data out there, I was working with some WHO colleagues. And so then after a few- actually just a few days of writing these newsletters, my students really pushed me to do a blog on social media. So I created a page and I started writing posts. And it kind of blew up. We started off at think I was, I was super proud with, like, 300 followers, you know, my mom, my sister, and then today, you know, I think we have close to or over 200,000 followers. And so it was certainly a gap that was needed this translation of science from a scientist directly to the community. I don’t want to take credit for identifying that gap. I kind of just stumbled into it, but certainly as needed.

Sujani 20:56
That’s fascinating. And I didn’t realize that it kind of like came out of work that you were already doing at the university. I thought it was one of your side projects of, you know, just that night pulling this together, but super cool that it kind of grew from something else that you were already doing with the WHO in the university.

Katelyn 21:15
Yeah, it was, you know, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a violence epidemiologist, but the pandemic really made everyone that hands on deck approach. So it was my calling to start helping and to start translating that science. And so I’m glad I did.

Sujani 21:31
Yeah, me too. Fascinating page. For our listeners who are interested, I think Facebook is one of the- one of the social media platforms that you could find Katelyn’s work, it’s called, “Your local epidemiologist”. And there’s also a blog associated with it. And I think I remember when we first chatted about this page, you were saying that there was a- there were a number of different groups of followers of this page, and it wasn’t entirely all scientific audience it was, you know, the public, the general public as well. Alright, have you been able to collect more, I guess, demographic info on who’s been- who’s following this page and kind of consuming that information?

Katelyn 22:15
Yeah. So Facebook actually has quite a lot of data on their back end that as a page owner, you can download. And so I’ve seen a lot of patterns, you know, mainly women, I think 85% of my followers are women, they are mainly white, they’re mainly very educated. And they aren’t necessarily in- Okay, so then we have those demographics, right. But I was like, I need more. And so I sent out a survey that I created about a couple of months ago, just to get a better understanding of the occupations following, you know, are they interested in getting a vaccine or not? I just wanted to know more information about them. And, and you’re right. I mean, it’s, I don’t have many scientists that follow and probably-

Sujani 23:01

Katelyn 23:02

  • probably good, because not me for, I don’t know, not dumbing it down, but making it a little simplistic, which, number one, I think is number- a huge issue during this pandemic, but then a lot of physicians follow me, I will say that, a lot of moms follow me. And really, other than that, really random, engineers, teachers, a lot of teachers. So a good mix, I think. And the other thing I collected was political affiliation. So are you left, are you right, socially or fiscally. And I was super proud that I haven’t mixed up everyone on the entire scale. And so that was really important to me, because that means this science is infiltrating echo chambers, which needs to happen on social media. And so that was, that’s more of one of the more proud metrics that I saw come out of that survey.

Sujani 24:02
And we kind of chatted a little bit about this as well, when I had come to talk to your students last week, just about taking that step, that ownership to go out and do something like this so that you are able to put out good information. I don’t know if your experience has, you know, allowed you to reflect in terms of what public health professionals can do more, not only during this pandemic or for COVID, but in their area of expertise in terms of knowledge, translation and science, communication or health communication, however, we want to label it.

Katelyn 24:38
Yeah, it’s a good question. You know, I think that we as professionals need to get training on scientific communication. I never got any of that throughout any of my schooling. And so I’m actually teaching a new course this summer to teach people how to do that. And I think like you said, so one, get the training. Two, put yourself out there, and you know, don’t shy away, you’d be surprised. Yeah, there’s trolls on social media and, you know, not so nice people. But you’d be surprised that the majority of people want to learn and want to listen, because they’re craving this information. And because we scientists just don’t have a platform for this dissemination other than mass media, which is largely seen as bias, at least in the United States. So yeah, I mean, get the training, and then put yourself out there and like me, you sometimes don’t even need the training. And, and in start educating people, and I think that’s really the biggest goal of mine.

Sujani 25:44
Yeah. And, you know, I have a few questions from that. Number one, I think, with the tools and resources we have in today’s kind of environment and technology, it’s not hard to put yourself out there. You know, social media is something everyone knows how to use. So even if you don’t know how to set up a website, to start a blog, at the very least, you can start a Facebook page or Instagram page or LinkedIn, there are just so many avenues to put yourself out there. But I think that is maybe less of a barrier. And I would think that one of the biggest barriers because I faced it, when I started this podcast was trusting yourself that you know enough to teach people and, you know, bring a message out. Did you have any of that? Or was it just the pandemic, and the frustrations that you’re seeing kind of fueled it? And you didn’t even need to think twice?

Katelyn 26:33
Yeah, you know, I actually, yeah, I don’t think twice. And the reason I don’t think twice is because I would get stage fright. Quite frankly, my posts, like I said, got more than 200,000 people on social media, my newsletter gets emailed to about 40,000 people. So if you actually start thinking about it, it’s terrifying. I don’t think twice about it, you know, I’m very confident in my knowledge, I’m very confident in what I am distributing, I do my homework. And no, even it’s important to know that even before all of this kind of went viral, I was an educator through and through before, and so it’s a passion of mine. And if you don’t have that passion, there’s I mean, really no sense of doing it, because it takes so much time and effort. And, and we need people, we have really good teachers out there, really good educators out there. And if you are one of those people, then- then just start putting yourself out there and see what happens. And don’t think twice, because it’ll get a little scary if you- if you are questioning yourself.

Sujani 27:49
Yeah. Because then you start imagining 200,000 people in an auditorium and you standing at the stage speaking to them.

Katelyn 27:55
Yeah, 100%. And then you’re like, well, shoot, like, I had a typo in there. And now sighs like, what are they going to think? And, you know-

Sujani 28:06

Katelyn 28:07
It’s just, you know, and I think that’s also really important aspect of my blog, and then of the social media presence is that it shows people that scientists are just people, right? I mean, we’re not super manicured, we’re not perfect. And walking people through that journey, I think is also really important. And so you it, you are more approachable and people are more willing to ask questions, even if they think it’s a quote unquote, stupid question. Because there are no stupid questions. So anyways, yeah, that’s, yeah, it’s been, it’s been a wild ride.

Sujani 28:48
Going back to one of the things that you mentioned, which was developing the skills in health communication, are there any specific types of skills that you would advise people to go out and kind of build on if they did want to, you know, pursue this path of being an educator? You know, there are different ways you could do this video audio written, but just thinking about like, are there tangible things that people could get trained in? I guess.

Katelyn 29:21
Yeah. So take a class, honestly. And if your university doesn’t offer that class, go find a class somewhere else. And you know, Universe Online, just get the basics of communication. You know, I, I learned a lot from just reading books to honestly because I’m like, I never had this. The other thing is you can get specific skills and so one thing that I started doing is and that’s how you and I connected is because I took an infographics course, you know, I, you, you put yourself out there and you just start teaching yourself. The other thing is that’s really important, and I don’t think enough people do this is to listen, during the pandemic episodes have been telling, telling, telling, without very little open communication of what is the community telling us? Why aren’t they doing what we’re telling them to do. And understanding that, and you’ll learn so much. I think more than any class can ever do if you just open your ears and stop talking and just listen to people. And to me, that’s really what taught me the most. And you know, even from small things, like one of my first posts, I was putting on Excel with colored lines to show our trajectory compared to other countries. And a follower said, hey, I would really love to see this, but I’m colorblind. And so that’s, you know, and she’s, and she gave me constructive feedback. And it was like, oh, think about colors, as well as textures. And so that’s something that I was able to implement that helped communicate my message to broader audiences, or, you know, certain language. The other day, I posted about how suicide has changed, or hasn’t changed during the pandemic. And I said, in my posts that, you know, before someone committed suicide, and I got quite a few constructive feedback, saying, that’s actually not the way we should be saying it, we should be saying died by suicide. And so then I edited my post, and, you know, so just being open to- to constructive criticism.

Sujani 29:21

Katelyn 31:29
There’s, you know, not constructive out there. But being open and implementing that will make you a better communicator as well.

Sujani 31:36
Yeah. And that’s the other thing I’ve noticed with your page. It’s not just that you have 200,000 followers, but you get good engagement, like hundreds and hundreds, if not, sometimes thousands of comments on your posts. Are they mainly positive and constructive? Or?

Katelyn 31:57
Yeah, no, 100%, mainly, mainly constructive and positive. And, you know, I really, I honestly, and selfishly, that’s the most fun I have with it is reading comments and hearing that feedback and hearing the additional questions people have. And what’s really cool about it, too, is, you know, I mentioned, some scientists do follow me. And so they’re there answering questions as well, and trying to communicate the science to them, which I think is fantastic, because then I get to learn too, but there are negatives. I mean, there’s negatives for sure, I’ve gotten hacked, I’ve, you know, gotten death threats. I’ve gotten all types of stuff. But you know, I think that what you have to keep close is the 99% of those that really are truly appreciative and want to learn.

Sujani 32:45

Katelyn 32:45
And so there’s a block- a block option for a reason.

Sujani 32:49

Katelyn 32:49
And so I, I use it very liberally. And I don’t regret that.

Sujani 32:55
And I think you do this very well to going back to what you’ve said about, you know, listening and just iterating when you learn something new, and you do that so well in your posts, where you don’t necessarily come out and say like, I am the expert, this is the answer. And I’m just looking at one of the posts here and it was on the variance and you ask the question, is there a variant surge? And then you say, we think so, the picture is messy, but here’s my best attempt. And I think that’s a great way to just introduce what you’re about to educate your followers on to let them know that, you know, there are lots of gaps in this, and I’m not the expert, but here’s my attempt at explaining it to you.

Katelyn 33:36
Yeah, and that level of transparency is critical. Because we don’t know everything, not one person knows everything and you can’t fake that you do because people will see right through you. And so you know, saying that and saying it is messy, there’s not an easy answer. But here we go. This is what we know. And taking him along that journey is honestly one of the reasons I started with this in the first place because it isn’t black and white. And people need to know that.

Sujani 34:07
I think I’ve heard a quote very early on before I started PH SPOT around, you know, people come to you for content and you know, just the information you’re sharing, but then they end up staying for that community that you’re building. And it sounds like you’ve got a specific community that really looking to you for that information. And for those individuals who are, you know, convinced that they can put themselves out there to educate the audience of their choice in a topic that they’re interested in public health, you know, put out good content, listen to the audience that you’re targeting. And then you build that community and people stay for more content. And that’s kind of just how it I guess snowballs into building a larger audience.

Yeah, 100% and then also partner with people, right? So there’s many Rate sites that have very strong followings right now, certainly not just mine. So sometimes it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel, but you can partner with someone and bring your skill set and to make that following even larger.


Katelyn 35:14
And, and, again, don’t be afraid to cold email someone or ask because a lot of these sites like Friendly Neighborhood Epidemiologist, or Dear Pandemic, or Unbiased Science Podcast, we’re all one woman shows. And we can use a lot of help. So, you know, there’s also that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but we can certainly partner and leverage everyone’s strengths for an even better outreach.

Sujani 35:44
Good that, Katelyn, I think you’re just like reading my question prompts ahead of time, that was one of my questions like how can how can people seek out opportunities so that they can develop skills and knowledge translation or health communication? And exactly as you put it, a lot of great platforms out there, and a lot of them, you know, believe it or not, are one woman shows and they could use a ton of help. So glad you mentioned that, and anything else that you think people can do, to seek out more opportunities in this field of health communication?

Katelyn 36:16
You know, I wish I knew an answer to that I’m just so new to this field. So you’ll have to ask me, maybe in a year, but, but really right now, and we can use all the help we can get. And so even if that is, hey, I have a cool idea, do you want to consider posting about it? I’ve done that multiple times with people, they draft out a post and I helped kind of, quote unquote, translate it, and we go back and forth and get it posted. And that information isn’t disseminated widely. Or, you know, you can help create a graph or help with the trolls or, you know, there’s so many opportunities, you just kind of have to make that first jump and just contact someone.

Sujani 37:01
Yeah, absolutely. And even like compiling information, I’ve found that’s another good area, there’s just so much information and on different platforms. And sometimes you just need it presented a certain way. So that it makes sense. That’s another way. And those are labor intensive, you know, just like scraping various websites to pull information together.

Katelyn 37:22
Oh, it’s so labor intensive. I also thought of another way to help. If you speak a second language, we need that type of workhorse, because I’m in Texas, 40% of our population is Hispanic 30% are Spanish speaking as a first language. It’s embarrassing to me that my posts aren’t translated in Spanish. That’s just, you know, unfortunately, something I just can’t do. I took Spanish for six years, believe it or not, but I can’t really- I can’t understand it. So that’s another, you know, way to leverage a skill that you may have. And even if it’s, you know, not Spanish, maybe it’s Mandarin or some of these other languages that could really also help disseminate good information is something that we definitely need right now.

Sujani 38:17
Yeah, that language barrier is big. So I speak Tamil and just explaining the concepts to some of my family members, like I need to really dig into my vocabulary to be able to take the public health information and then translate it into this other language that, you know, my family can understand a lot better than they can, you know, comprehend what politicians and public health professionals are saying on the TV every day.

Katelyn 38:44
Yeah, we’re never going to win this battle. But we can do the best we can.

Sujani 38:48

Katelyn 38:49
And you’re right, getting this information out there to, to all types of communities is essential for us to get over this thing.

Sujani 38:57
I guess. So that’s one. One easy call out is if you speak Spanish or Mandarin. do reach out to Katelyn or Your Local Epidemiologist page.

Katelyn 39:09
Now I’m gonna get a million.

Sujani 39:11

Katelyn 39:13
But I would love it. Yeah, absolutely. That can be very useful.

Sujani 39:17
Amazing. Ya know, that was kind of one of the topics I really wanted to cover with you. We’re both learning around health communication. I think the cool part is we both got into it because of passion and personal interest, not really having professional training in our kind of school journey. So really cool to connect with the another like minded person in this field that I really hope that you know, will keep expanding in public health and really looking forward to hearing more about that course that you’re building for the summer. I don’t know if you were able to speak a little bit more about it. Have you pulled together kind of an outline?

Katelyn 39:57
I have and so the course is centered around scientific communication, basically, why we need it, the theory behind it, and then going into more I teach a very applied way. And so going into applied examples of, you know, scientific communication to scientists, right, and what those avenues look like, how do you write a published manuscript? How do you present at a conference? How do you get people engaged when you start talking on a podium, and then also communication to the layman, right, through infographics or through tight reports of your research or through, you know, public health campaigns, and so it’s still very, I mean, I kind of have to figure it out with a t start teaching in a month. I’ll be I’ll be figuring it out as we go along, but I’m really more of an implied sense.

Sujani 40:51
Okay. And I’m assuming this is only for University of Texas students?

Katelyn 40:56
Yes, unfortunately, only University of Texas students, I think you can actually audit courses if you are interested in from an outside institution. And so that may be a possibility too.

Sujani 41:08
Okay, I guess, when that’s out, we’ll make sure to link it in our not only our show notes page, but maybe our newsletter, too, for those who may be interested.

Katelyn 41:18
Yeah, I think that sounds great.

Sujani 41:19
Awesome. Any kind of last minute thoughts or words of wisdom, Katelyn, for our listeners on the PH SPOT podcast?

Katelyn 41:28
I don’t think so. Just wear that mask.

Sujani 41:30
Yeah. Good. Good. Good. Mask and vaccines. Thank you so much, Katelyn, for joining me today. And I hope we can do this again. And of course, you know, collaborate more on this topic of health communication.

Katelyn 41:44
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

Sujani 41:46
Thank you.

I hope you enjoyed that episode with Dr. Katelyn Jetelina. As mentioned in the intro, we will be sure to link any resources mentioned in the episode today within our show notes page at And before you go, as promised, here’s a bit more information about our infographics 101 course, you can find a ton more information at this link which is It’s a course that we designed specifically for public health professionals and it teaches you to design infographics with software you know and use. And so that’s You’ll not only find the course at this link, but also additional free resources to really get you started on that infographics journey. So do make sure to check it out. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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